This Apologia seeks to demonstrate, with reference to the most prominent objections which have been raised against AL, that it neither contradicts nor even develops the doctrine of the Church. Rather it shows that while AL changes Church teaching, in the sense of its disciplines, these changes are of a purely pastoral nature which are within the authority of the Pope to alter.
The objections raised to the orthodoxy of AL, and the main replies provided by this Apologia, are briefly summarised below.
- Objection – As outlined in the first Dubia, it is not possible to admit to the Sacraments the D&R not living in complete continence, given they are in a state of objective grave sin.
- Reply – The teaching of the Church before AL already acknowledged only subjective mortal sin, not merely objective grave sin, precludes the fruitful reception of the Sacraments. Further the Church acknowledged the D&R may have mitigating factors which reduce culpability, so their objectively grave sin may subjectively be merely venial.
- Objection – As outlined in the second, fourth and fifth Dubia, adultery is intrinsically evil and prohibited without exception, and can never be determined to be subjective good or justified by conscience.
- Reply – The teaching of the Church before AL already acknowledged mitigating factors can reduce culpability for intrinsic evils, as mitigating factors limit guilt for rather than permit such evils.
- Objection – As referred to in the third Dubia, it is not possible to admit to the Sacraments the D&R not living in complete continence, given they obstinately persist in manifest grave sin which would give rise to public scandal.
- Reply – While the teaching of the Church before AL assumed the objectively grave sin of the D&R was always manifest (i.e. public) based on the civil legal recognition, consistent with the approach of the Church to other objectively grave sins (7.0 Slippery Slope), AL provides that pastorally speaking it may not always be public in a way which rise to a risk of public scandal. This novel approach of AL is doctrinally possible, as being public is not intrinsic to the nature of marriage, but rather must be assessed as a matter of empirical fact.
- Objection – As FC 84 bases its exclusion of the D&R not living in complete continence from Holy Communion upon Sacred Scripture, the exclusion is of itself an unchangeable doctrinal proposition.
- Reply – The Sacred Scripture in question is Mark 10:2-12 etc, which confirms that the D&R commit adultery, and therefore only doctrinally precludes an approach which contradicts this divine law. However AL does not so contradict, as it neither denies the absolute indissolubility of marriage (8.0 Indissolubility) nor the intrinsic nature of the evil of adultery (2.0 Intrinsic Evil).
- Objection – FC 84 gives as its primary reason for the exclusion of the D&R not living in complete continence from Holy Communion that they objectively contradict the Eucharist, which is separate to the special pastoral reason it gives, being scandal regarding the indissolubility of marriage.
- Reply – The teaching of the Church on this objective contradiction show it relates to public scandal in relation to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, rather than in relation to the Sacrament of Marriage as separately mentioned by FC 84. Accordingly, as shown at 3.0 Public Scandal, objective contradiction does not doctrinally preclude the approach of AL.
- Objection – As the exclusion of the D&R not living in complete continence from Holy Communion has been the constant and unchanging practice of the Church, the exclusion is of itself an unchangeable doctrinal proposition.
- Reply – Doctrine is propositional, and accordingly even the constant practice of the Church can’t be unchangeable unless it evidences some underlying doctrinal proposition. However, as shown at 1.0 Mortal Sin and 3.0 Public Scandal, the propositions underlying the Traditional exclusion of the D&R not living in complete continence from Holy Communion don’t doctrinally preclude the approach of AL.
- Objection – The application of the principles in AL will extend to other objectively grave sins, such as same-sex relations, abortion, suicide / euthanasia, artificial contraception etc, impairing the witness of the Church against these grave evils.
- Reply – The teaching of the Church before AL already admitted to the Sacraments those whom commit other objectively grave sins, on a case by case basis in accordance with precisely the same principles as provided by AL.
- Objection – If it is possible to admit to the Sacraments the D&R not living in complete continence, the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage is effectively denied.
- Reply – AL does not accept any proposal to allow second marriages, such as oikonomia, but rather reaffirms the indissolubility of marriage. Further, while its approach may be considered less prophetic, AL explicitly denies its pastoral approach can be considered a weakening of its faith in indissolubility.
Accordingly it is acknowledged AL changes Church teaching and sacramental discipline, in that it allows contrary to the perennial practice of the Church there are circumstances where it is possible to admit the D&R not living in complete continence to Holy Communion.
However, the novelty underlying this change is merely a reassessment of when the objectively grave sin of the D&R is manifest / public, such Holy Communion must be denied to prevent public scandal. This reassessment does not contradict nor even develops the doctrine of the Church, as it relates to an assessment of empirical facts to which doctrine is applied, which cannot of itself be unchangeable doctrine.
10 thoughts on “9.0 Abstract and Conclusion”
So let me get this straight:
If a Divorced and Remarried (D&R) couple, understood to mean Divorced from a valid marriage and then civilly remarried, have somehow managed to hide from the public the fact that they are living as a married couple, and if they are simultaneously continuing in conjugal relations only under a kind of partial duress which reduces their culpability, then they may receive communion.
But, the moment someone finds out that they’re married, then public scandal becomes possible. As a consequence, their ability to receive immediately goes away.
Alternatively, they might hide the fact of the prior (valid) marriage. In that case their current (civil) marriage could be publicly-known, and still avoid scandal. But the moment someone learns of the prior marriage, their ability to receive immediately goes away.
So if, and only if, a couple has a subjective lessening of culpability and simultaneously enjoys the benefit of public ignorance of their marital history, can they receive communion.
Is that right?
In essence, that is correct. The Church places two restrictions on access to Holy Communion in relation to sin. One is individual – Don’t receive if you are in a state of mortal sin, because then Communion is the wrong medicine, and it becomes a further sin. The second is communal – Don’t lead others to commit your sin, by seeking public Church approval for the sin.
This actually applies to every grave sin which might be mentioned, and has for a very long time. The real reason it is only a big deal in relation to marriage, is that the Church has treated that as always public, and most other things as nearly always private.
But is scandal only removed by people not knowing right now? And which people, only people in the parish that are Catholic? Or anyone that knows you? What if it is discovered in the future, won’t people be scandalized (in the technical sense of that word) then that the Church–which knew all along–has accepted this? Having accepted it all along, and the everyone already scandalized, inside and outside the Church, must she deny communion now lest they be even more scandalized? Is there a level of scandalized where we just shrug and say, “Go ahead, everyone has already been led into error; there is no fixing that now.”
And certainly it is entirely likely someone may find out in the future, as marriage is a public act, with public records, &c. One almost certainly has ties of one sort or another to one’s true spouse, and frequently there will be children, friends or family that knew you before. It is a big secret to attempt to sweep under the rug now, when everything about it was completely public from the beginning. One would have to have absolutely zero contact with anyone that had ever known about the marriage.
And at the end of the day, if one agrees with this reasoning, isn’t it odd that my ability to receive communion is not based on my conduct in public (ie, marriage, and then attempting remarriage, both public acts) but based on whether the priest knows, or thinks he knows, what other people know or don’t know, or will come to know, about that public conduct? Is he expected to be a mind reader and a fortune teller?
Thank you for your kind reply to my earlier question.
I’d like to make a Further Observation. Before stating it, I must establish five premises:
Premise 1: That it is a (potentially serious) sin against prudence to willfully engage in scandalous-but-initially-secret activity which has a significant likelihood of becoming public, and thus publicly scandalous, in the future. This sin against prudence is in addition to the sinfulness of the initially-secret activity, itself.
Premise 2: To keep secret these scandalous activities will require a Divorced and Remarried (D&R) couple to deceive others around them, in order to keep them secret; and positive action taken to deceive others is usually sinful; and lying about a sacrament is probably gravely sinful.
Premise 3: Marriage is intrinsically a public state. One way in which marriage is public is the practical need of most persons to know the marital status of most other persons with whom they have more than a passing acquaintance. (For any person X living a non-cloistered, non-eremetical existence, there will usually be a dozen or more persons for whom the knowledge of X’s marital status is a practical convenience, and for some, a practical necessity.)
Premise 4: That God calls persons to advance in holiness by ceasing, at some time T, sinful behaviors which they, through disordered affections, were unwilling to cease at some time prior to T. Among the kinds of behaviors from which we must eventually repent are (a.) matters of grave sexual immorality; (b.) matters of grave dishonesty; and (c.) matters of willfully putting the faith of others at unnecessary risk.
Premise 5: Sometime before receiving Holy Communion, persons should receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the penitent is indispensably required to have a firm intention not only of not repeating a serious sin, but of avoiding the things which demonstrably lead them into that sin. Without that intention, the sacrament is not valid.
Those are the five premises.
You have already agreed with me that Amoris Laetitia, if granted an orthodox reading in continuity with the teachings of the Church, allows only a narrow set of circumstances wherein a D&R person could receive Holy Communion without grave sin.
Specifically: A D&R person may receive if (1.) their objectively adulterous current arrangement is not publicly known; and, (2.) their culpability for entering and remaining in that arrangement is attenuated to a venal level.
That’s already pretty narrow.
But, here is my Further Observation:
If my five premises are correct, or even if each of them is usually correct, then the circumstances under which the D&R person may receive Holy Communion without immediately incurring grave sin is even narrower previously stated.
A D&R couple, in order for their reception of Holy Communion to remain non-scandalous, must keep it secret.
In order to do that, they will have to continually engage in deceiving the persons around them for whom knowledge of their marital status is relevant information. The less careful they are about maintaining the deception, the more likely it is that their real marital status will become known to some of these other persons.
But to commit to maintaining this secret, long-term, just is a commitment to continue deceiving the persons around them about their marital state. And this just is a commitment not to avoid, but to continuously commit, either serious sin or at least activities which lead them into serious sin (maintaining the deception sufficiently well to minimize the risk of exposure while simultaneously avoiding, through “intentional misunderstandings” any positive act of lying about a sacrament).
In the meantime, they must go to Reconciliation at least once per year, and generally as a prerequisite for proper reception of Holy Communion. And they must not merely go; they must validly receive absolution.
How will they do this?
How will they validly receive absolution, while maintaining an intention to deceive others about their marital state, and maintaining an intention to go on risking scandal (and thus the faith of their neighbors) in the event their state becomes public? How can they both “firmly intend” not to sin, and to avoid things which lead them into sin, while maintaining such intentions?
I think it would be a practical impossibility, certainly a great rarity. Perhaps one D&R couple in a thousand might thread that needle.
And in that case, if the instructions of Amoris Laetitia lead to a measurable increase in D&R persons receiving Holy Communion, then we can conclude that the vast majority of that increase involves D&R persons committing grave sacrilege and not benefitting from receiving; and only a few (or none) avoiding sacrilege and gaining spiritual benefit.
Isn’t that correct?
Practical problems with the approach adopted by Canon 915 may be identified, but I think you will find these also apply in relation to every other type of sin, where we do not deny Communion in every case (but only where it is relevantly public).
If we were instead to deny Communion on the basis any grave sin could become public, the people whom would have to be denied would extend far beyond the D&R, in a manner not seen in the Church since private confession was introduced (i.e. in the early Church, with public penance, where a large numbers were subject to public multi-year exclusions from Communion).
Approaching it as “any grave sin could become public” has it turned completely backwards. The sin (the adulterous union) is already public, it is the “non-sin” (the true marriage) that is private.
It is rather important, I think, that such an error in perspective could be made, as it means the true marriage is being looked at as if it were the shame and scandal that must be hidden rather than the adultery.
The way I see it, it is the irregular nature of the union which is the grave sin, and could cause scandal if it is public. If an irregular union can be assumed to be a true marriage, the risk of scandal disappears, though it remains an objectively sinful situation.
Accordingly it is to be recommend that a person be tactful and discrete in relation to their martial history, including their true spouse before God. To be open regarding the true marriage, and thus the irregular nature of the current union, would therefore be a further sin of causing scandal.
“Accordingly it is to be recommend that a person be tactful and discrete in relation to their martial history, including their true spouse before God.”
It is not only recommended but commanded that they stop committing adultery.
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I absolutely agree.
Firstly, thank you for laying out your concern so clearly.
In terms of your premises, I would register reservations to premises 2, 3 and 5.
For premise 2, while lying is intrinsically evil, merely refusing to provide information to which people have no right would instead be virtue, that of tact. Therefore it should not require any evil to keep the situation from becoming public.
For premise 3, I would not say marriage is intrinsically public, but rather than cohabitation is nearly always public. However, it is not the fact of a couple’s cohabitation which needs to remain secret, but instead its irregular nature (i.e. the cohabitation could be assumed to be part of a valid sacramental marriage).
For premise 5, I would say it is not objectively grave sin which needs to be confessed, but rather subjective mortal sin (per Trent venial sins can be omitted, even though they would remain unforgiven, as no purpose to avoid them in future exists).
Accordingly, while I agree the circumstances where the D&R may fruitfully receive are very narrow, I don’t think they are as narrow as your premises would suggest. Further, so long as the sin remains venial, they could receive valid absolution for any other sins they have (i.e. which are mortal).
On the other hand, as to what I take is to main point that most D&R who will receive in practice will not benefit and indeed will commit further grave sins, I actually tend to agree. Most of them will likely be eating to their judgement.
But that is no different to any other class of sinner, whom we don’t physically stop committing their primary sin, nor the further sin of eating to their judgement. Ultimately, while the Church can adopt practices which provide more of a prophetic witness, we can’t stop people from sinning. So long as we proclaim the Gospel, including its moral imperatives, the Church is doing what it must. If people sin despite that, the guilt will be their own, and they will need to answer for it on the day of Judgement. As indeed will we all.